Q: Why are Southern Baptists opposed to pre-marital sex?
A: Because it leads to dancing.
If you are now or have ever been a member of an SBC church (like I was at one time), you’ve probably heard that joke.
Sadly, for some, it’s not a joke, but rather another in a long line of (1) focusing on the wrong thing, (2) elevating opinion/preference to the level of doctrine, and (3) drawing definitive conclusions that have little or no basis in reality.
Such is the case for Mary Kassian in her criticism of William P Young’s The Shack. Now, I am by no means a fan of the book. It contains some (at best) questionable theology, has a troubling back-story, and many of its more strident fans often can’t seem to decide which genre it is in.
If you aren’t familiar with the book, Kassian’s criticism largely revolves around the fact that God the Father appears as a black woman named Papa. Criticisms regarding this issue are numerous and have ranged from concern that Young has crossed a line to emphatic assertion that Young is promoting “goddess worship”.
It is fairly clear that what Young was probably trying to accomplish was to shake up the reader’s image of God, addressing the unfortunate issue that we have often created Him in our image, particularly in Western culture. Unfortunately, Young’s attempt falls flat in that he trades in one humanly recognizable (and ill-conceived) image for another. (Put another way, while it is true that God is not Wilford Brimley, He’s not Aunt Jemima, either.)
Setting aside the myriad negative motives that Kassian ascribes to Young, it would appear that she doesn’t even think that an assertion of goddess worship promotion is strong enough. Alluding to a mid-80s sculpture of a female Christ hanging on a cross, Kassian claims:
If you [don't think that The Shack contains terribly wrong concepts about God], then you’re well on your way to accepting the image of the Christa on the cross. In a few years, you’ll be hanging her up in your church.
No cautions that the wrong concepts could lead to other problems. Rather, absolute and definitive statements of what will, without question, happen. Do not pass GO. Do not collect $200. (Somebody call God and tell him that Kassian said He isn’t sovereign anymore.)
The only comment that I’ll make about her very next sentence (”I don’t think I’m overstating the case”) is to allude to gunplay, aquatic creatures, and large cylindrical containers made of wood.
Kassian’s criticism is not only over-the-top, but in some cases, just as theologically bad as — if not worse than — the book she is criticizing. As part of her overall context of examining the imaging of God, she states (emphasis hers):
In the Old Testament, God instructed his people to reject female goddess images and images of God as a bi-sexual or a dual-sexual Baal/Ashtoreth-type collaboration. God hated this imagery so much that he had his people destroy it and all those who promoted it.
Combining these statements with others peppered throughout the article, Kassian comes dangerously close to (if not outright) implying that God’s main problem with Baal/Ashtoreth wasn’t the whole false god thing, but simply that those who worshiped Baal/Ashtoreth had imaged God wrong. This is the same lousy logic that says that the Allah that Muslims worship is the same entity/person as Jehovah.
I have, on numerous occasions, cited my dismay with those that espouse an idea and then search the Scriptures for support of that idea (see also, “cart before the horse”). But at least such eisegesis is only a misapplication of the text. It’s sad that Kassian apparently feels that, in order to criticize the re-imaging of God, she must engage in the re-imaging of His Word.